Gotham Gazette

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Now or Never: The High Stakes of Federal Housing Funding

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Housing repairs (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

When President Biden and Congress first announced the details of the Build Back Better Act, they sent a loud and clear signal to housing advocates and stakeholders that help was finally on the way. The $330 billion investment into the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and $30 billion into the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program both represented the most significant plan in generations to address a worsening housing crisis.

Now, however, Washington is sending a different signal: housing is not important enough. In the latest round of negotiations, Congress is considering cutting the housing programs by more than two thirds, lowering the investment to just $100 billion. That will mean significantly less funding for rental assistance, public housing, and tools that will boost production of housing across the country – and, in that scenario, we all lose.

Let’s be clear: housing is not some arcane policy issue. It materially impacts the lives of every single American, and the reality is that far too many people simply do not have access to the safe, affordable home they deserve. If Congress doesn’t step up and protect the vital housing measures originally proposed, voters will notice.

After all, addressing a worsening housing crisis is the very foundation on which the rest of the social spending bill rests.

Children can’t perform their best at school when they must return to homeless shelters or to other crowded, unsafe living conditions. Families paying more than they can afford on rent are forced to forgo basic necessities every day. Individuals struggling with homelessness continue to interact with the criminal justice system at higher rates when they really need stable housing. Long lasting racial inequities in homeownership continue unabated because there is not enough opportunity. And aging housing stock continues to exacerbate climate crises because it is outdated, inefficient, and not prepared for the 21st century.

These are just some of the many downstream impacts of housing insecurity. And the Build Back Better Act is a rare opportunity to actually make a real difference.

The original proposal called for a historic investment in affordable housing, including $90 billion for rental assistance, $80 billion for public housing, $37 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund (HTF) to produce new low-income units, and $35 billion for HOME Investment Partnership to expand homeownership opportunities, and fixes to the LIHTC program to unlock millions in new private resources and double the production of affordable housing and significantly funded other vital HUD programs.

For New York, the results would be completely transformational. The expanded rental assistance program would increase the number of assisted households by 30%, serving 151,000 additional New Yorkers – 52,000 of whom would be children. Public housing funding could address mounting capital needs at NYCHA, eliminating the repair backlog by 100%, meaning we could finally address an embarrassing emergency in our public housing stock. And tweaks to LIHTC would produce 82,000 new units of affordable housing, ultimately creating 124,000 new jobs, $14 billion in business income, and $5 billion in new tax revenue.

This would help the City and State actually take significant steps towards ending homelessness, increase affordable rental and homeownership supply and address NYCHA’s capital needs. But deep cuts to this planned funding would simply maintain the unacceptable status quo: more than 90,000 people experiencing homelessness on a given night last year across the state, a deficit of almost 650,000 affordable and available rental units, and the majority of low-income households paying more than half their income in rent. City Hall and Albany will continue to make progress for housing on the margins without real help from Washington.

Changing American society for the better starts with addressing the real housing emergency facing far too many people. We got into this mess originally because Washington de-prioritized housing – and we cannot afford to do so again. If we do, it may be decades before we get another chance.

Rachel Fee is the Executive Director of the New York Housing Conference. On Twitter @RachelFee4NY & @TheNYHC.

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